The Yamas and Niyamas are the first and second limbs of yoga derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Yamas represent moral discipline towards others while Niyamas are considered to be personal care towards ourselves. These days, many of us are only familiar with Asana as the practice of yoga, which is only one of the 8 limbs of Yoga. These eight limbs of yoga can be thought of as a guide on how to live in order to spiritually advance towards enlightenment. Sometimes the 5 yamas and 5 niyamas can even be considered as the “ten commandments” of yoga, which isn’t necessarily concerned with what is right or what is wrong but as sort of a manual in avoiding behaviors that produce suffering and embracing behaviors that lead to states of happiness.In this post, we will dive into the 5 different yamas and how to apply them off the mat and into your life.
Yama means regulation, control or restraint. Each yama is a guideline for behaving in a kind-hearted manner towards others. Practicing all five yamas cultivate a strong moral backbone that will be beneficial not only for ourselves, but for others as well.
Ahimsa translates to non-violence or non-harm in thoughts, words and deeds. This means having non-violence in all aspects of life, not just towards others but also to ourselves. If you do something wrong, be compassionate and kind to yourself, and learn from the experience. Ahimsa doesn’t only refer to physical non-violence but even mentally as well. Even just thinking negative thoughts about ourselves or others is a form of violence, even if you don’t say it out loud. Also remember that whatever we convey, will eventually return to us, by means of cause and effect. Therefore, treating people with kindness in our thoughts and deeds, we will receive kindness in return. Treating people with negativity or violence, we will also receive negativity or violence.
Satya is when our thoughts, words and actions are aligned with each other. There is a high degree of responsibility regarding Satya in the sense that our actions must coincide with our words. For example, if we say that we will do something, then it becomes our responsibility to do it. People will grow more confident in ourselves as we show that we can be reliable. And if we say one thing and do another, people will lose trust and question our reliability. This virtue not only applies for others, but being truthful to ourselves is equally as important. For example, if you want to lose weight and say you want to lose weight but follow with no action in trying to lose weight, you are not practicing satya. If you follow through with your intention to lose weight by taking the necessary actions to change, then the results will be how you expect. Being truthful in all cases is practicing Satya.
Asteya is when we do not take from others and when we accept only what is earned or what is given freely. The need to steal arises because we feel we are missing something or that we are ‘incomplete’. If we can move towards the notion that what we have is already enough within ourselves, there will be no need to feel that we need to take what is not ours. According to the sutras, if we do not steal another person’s property, more prosperity will come to us. Property is not only measured in material objects, but even can be considered a person’s right to speech. For example, if we interrupt somebody as they are speaking, we are stealing their right to be heard. Another good way to practice this virtue is to give without expecting anything in return. Often times we give with an expectation of receiving of equal or greater value, but this is better known as an exchange. By giving more than receiving, we can realize that we what we have is enough. With a positive mind and attitude, if we give without expectation, we will lead a very prosperous life.
BRAHMACARYA: Energy Moderation
Brahmacarya is the conservation of vital energy or as yogis like to call it‘prana’. Controlling oursensory organs help us to keep in balance and harmony. Conserving the sexual energy that we have is important in order to channel the prana in more productive directions. Our reproductive fluids are what fuels the subtle force behind our immune system. While promiscuity takes us away from our inner and higher focus and lowers us into the outer world of temporary pleasures. Everything needs moderation and balance, we can enjoy everything that life has to offer without becoming attached or addicted to these sensations. Controlling sexual desires is a major step into becoming a responsible and balanced person.
Aparigraha translates to not being possessive with material objects, our bodies and our thoughts. In order to progress in yoga, we must let go of the concept of “mine”, which can be difficult for ourselves and the ego but it is necessary in order to grow. Our ego becomes stronger as we accumulate fame, fortune and material things. We must step back to realize how shallow these outer qualities are and that it is more important to work towards an inward orientation. As we collect more material things, more of our time is spent maintaining them, giving us less time to develop ourselves internally. If we lighten our load of things, this will give us free time to spend in other ways. We can devote ourselves to experiencing our own light of awareness.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the first limb of yoga, the Yamas. Take time to understand each virtue and how you can apply them into your life. These universal understandings can help you on your path to greater happiness and spiritual fulfillment. Read our next post where we will dive into the second limb of yoga, the Niyamas. <3